Project ark brings Southland’s heritage into the digital era

Some of the Cabinets of Curiosities at Riverton's Te Hikoi Museum which have been put together as part of the ongoing Project Ark. Photo: Eve Welch
Museum specialists working on Project Ark at Riverton’s Te Hikoi Museum (from left) researcher and cataloguer Sarah
Robinson, of Wellington, Gore District Council heritage projects officer, arts and heritage department, David Luoni, collection
technician Sam Chandler, of Browns, and collection photographer Eve Welch, of Riverton, are researching, cataloguing,
photographing and packing more than 8000 artefacts and photographs in the collection. Photo: Jenet Gellatly

CONTAINING treasures, oddities and eclecticness, the Cabinets of Curiosities will entice and enthral visitors at Riverton’s Te Hikoi Museum.

Some of the items of interest, amusement and intrigue from the Victorian era have been gathered from the museum’s archives and placed in the cabinets as part of Project Ark, which will see the museum’s items, including photographs and research notes, loaded on to the website so they could be accessed online.

As well as researching, cataloguing and photographing each item, each artefact the team, which included researchers, cataloguers, collection technicians and a photographer had to be carefully checked for damage, cleaned and repacked in a custom-built box or container if needed.

Overseen by Gore District Council heritage projects officer, arts and heritage department, David Luoni, of Gore, the team was more than six months into the Riverton project.

“We started in December with an inventory of all the objects and photographs, and identified where everything was located in the museum,” Mr Luoni said.

“This laid the platform” for the digitalisation.

“Then all the documentation [we could locate] was loaded and what dates there were, to give a base.”

Researching various artefacts, which were decided on a case-by-case basis, and adding information from members of the public, donors or family members also added to the database, he said.

Mr Luoni said the oldest European item in Te Hikoi was the Galloway family Bible, from 1576.

According to eHive, the Bible was a first edition “which came from Scotland with the Galloway family in the mid-1800s and was significant because it was the first complete English-language Bible printed in Scotland”.

Part of the reason was because… “only a few years prior to its printing, simply possessing a Bible in English was an offence punishable by death…”

The Galloway family had been involved in the printing industry as early as 1798.

After emigrating to New Zealand, William Galloway and his son Alexander bought Riverton’s newspaper The Western Star.

Everyday items and collections donated by people also revealed the way society used to be (social history), such as the small collection of personal items, including a cameo brooch, photograph album and other items of Margaret Gillies McVicar (need Frentz), of Tuatapere, Mr Luoni said.

The daughter of German-born Carl (Charles) Frentz and Mary Frew, Mrs McVicar was born
at Orepuki in 1881.

She married West Coast miner Donald McVicar in 1914 and, after World War 1, they  farmed at Te Tua (Happy Valley).

After the couple divorced, she moved to Tuatapere where she lived until she died in 1964. As she did not have children, she left her estate to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and her chattels were bequeathed to the Wallace Early Settlers Association, which was now a part of Te Hikoi.

Annette Horrell assisted the Project Ark team providing some family research about Mrs
McVicar, resulting in fleshing out the donations, Mr Luoni said.

It appeared Mrs McVicar was also an accomplished photographer, and her photo album gave a glimpse into the social history of the time and region, including the South Seas
Exhibition in Dunedin of 1925/1926.

‘‘It is a beautiful snapshot of Western Southland in the 1920s,’’ Mr Luoni said.

Preserving the past
As part of an earlier trial, Project Ark had digitised 50 items from each of 12 smaller  museums throughout Southland, giving eHive a base of 600 artefacts.

This had been added to from the digitalisation of the Wyndham Museum.

Now it was Te Hikoi’s turn, which would include more than 8000 artefacts and photographs in the collection, Mr Luoni said.

Mr Luoni said the team were also working with Oraka Aparima Runaka.

It was estimated the project might take two years to compete, or longer, depending on
variables, he said.

Having items digitised would make researching them easier for people, and more  accessible, especially if they couldn’t travel to remote museums.

As well as each museum having its own digital collection, it would also be contained in a
national digital collection, which could be accessed nationally or worldwide.

‘‘Project Ark’s goal was to make Southland’s heritage available to everyone,’’ Mr Luoni said.

The project had been funded by Lottery Environment and Heritage Fund and Southland  District, Invercargill and Gore district councils (through the Southland Regional Heritage

Those interested in viewing the various heritage objects and results thus far, could go to
eHive Te Hikoi or Museums of Southland.

– To find out more about the project, including volunteering, go to